Previewing Game 3 of the ALCS
Having lost their travel day to Sunday's rainout, the Rangers and Tigers head to Detroit for Game 3 of the American League Championship Series with the Rangers leading two games to none. How significant is that edge? Of the 21 teams to go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven LCS, only three failed to win the pennant: the 1985 Blue Jays, the 1985 Dodgers and the 2004 Yankees, the only team to blow a 3-0 lead in baseball history.
• The Rangers' recipe for success in this series thus far has been dominant relief pitching and Nelson Cruz home runs. Cruz's solo homer off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning of Game 1 proved to be the difference in that 3-2 contest. In Game 2, Cruz tied things up at 3-3 with a solo homer off Max Scherzer in the seventh, then broke that tie in the bottom of the 11th with a walk-off grand slam off Ryan Perry. Cruz had gone 1-for-15 with a single and five strikeouts in the Division Series against the Rays, but is now 4-for-7 with three home runs, a double, a hit-by-pitch and no strikeouts in the ALCS.
• The Rangers' bullpen, meanwhile, has combined for 12 2/3 scoreless innings in this series, striking out 16 men against just three walks. That includes 3 2/3 innings from Alexi Ogando (5 Ks), 2 1/3 innings from closer Neftali Feliz (3 Ks), 4 1/3 innings from long man Scott Feldman in Game 2 (4 Ks), and 1 1/3 innings from Game 2 winner Mike Adams (3 Ks).
• The loss of the travel day means that the Rangers won't get to rest their key relievers after an extra-inning game on Monday in which they received just 2 2/3 innings out of their starter, Derek Holland. That might not impact Game 3 beyond Feldman's unavailability, but if the Tigers pull out a win in the next two nights, these two teams will play four days in a row, and the Rangers kicked off that stretch on Monday with Ogando, Feliz, and Adams each throwing more than 20 pitches. Then again, the Tigers' two best relievers, set-up man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde, threw a similar amount in Game 2, and as we've already seen the Tigers' bullpen isn't nearly as deep as the Rangers'.
• Colby Lewis was a vastly superior pitcher on the road this season. Compared to his home splits, his road ERA was more than two runs lower, he struck out nearly three more men per nine innings and his home run rate was half of what it was at home. Lewis had a strong start on the road in the Division Series, holding the Rays to one run on one hit (a solo homer by Desmond Jennings) in six innings while striking out six, and is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five career postseason starts. That's the good news. The bad news is that Lewis was rocked in both of his regular season starts against the Tigers (one at home, one at Comerica Park), allowing 14 runs (13 earned) in just 7 1/3 total innings, and the Tigers' expected starting nine in Game 3 has hit .391/.415/.563 in 95 career plate appearances against him.
• Doug Fister pitched well in his two starts against the Rangers this year. He went 7 2/3, giving up six hits and four runs in a loss while a member of the Mariners, and after being traded to Detroit, pitched 7 innings and gave up eight hits and three runs (two earned) to get the win. That was his first as a Tiger and came at Comerica Park, site of tonight's Game 3. Since then, including his two Division Series outings against the Yankees, Fister has allowed more than two runs just twice in 13 appearances, both of those duds coming on the road. As the Tigers starter in the resumed Game 1 of the Division Series (technically a relief appearance), Fister worked out of early difficulty to retire 10 men in a row only to run into more trouble thereafter and take the loss. His Game 5 start was better as he allowed just one run on a Robinson Cano home run in five innings and picked up the win. Altogether, Fister struck out 10 Yankees in 9 2/3 Division Series innings, continuing the surprising strikeout rate that accompanied his dominance down the stretch for the Tigers (8.4 K/9 over his last eight appearances, seven of them starts, to go with a 7-0 record and 0.65 ERA).
• Nelson Cruz is 7-for-14 with two doubles, a home run and a walk in his career against Fister. The only other Ranger with comparable numbers is David Murphy (6-for-16, 2 HR).
• Rangers manager Ron Washington announced after Game 2 that lefty first baseman Mitch Moreland would not be in the starting lineup for this game despite the fact that the Tigers are starting a right-hander in Fister. Moreland is 2-for-17 in this postseason after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Game 2 and is 1-for-11 in his career against Fister. Sitting Moreland allows Washington to give Michael Young a start in the field at first base, which allows him to give Mike Napoli a day at designated hitter and puts catcher Yorvit Torrealba in Moreland's place in the lineup. Torrealba started Game 1 of the Division Series against the Rays, going 0-for-3 in that game dominated by rookie Matt Moore, but has not appeared in a game since. Torrealba is a meaningless 3-for-6 with two doubles in his career against Fister.